Documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick has given us provocative exposés on the theme of institutionalized hypocrisy before. He set his sights on the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal in Twist of Faith (2004) and the double standards of the MPAA in This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006). Outrage is by far the director’s most incendiary work to date, however, and is guaranteed simultaneously to raise your consciousness and your blood pressure.
Dick’s subject this time around is the closeted elected official. At first glance, you may think, He’s made a movie that outs secretly gay politicians? What gives him the right to invade the privacy of these public servants? Dick has an answer, and it’s not simply a valid one; it’s one that will make your hair stand on end.
Collaborating with a combination of journalists, bloggers, media personalities, activists, private citizens and Beltway insiders, the filmmaker begins by establishing the falsehood of denials issued over the years by such prominent figures as former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, Idaho Senator Larry Craig, Virginia Congressman Ed Schrock, Louisiana Representative Jim McCrery, California Congressman David Dreier and Florida Governor Charlie Crist (often cited as a likely 2012 Republican presidential candidate). Not to mention George Bush’s 2004 campaign manager, Ken Mehlman.
The proof offered by the film takes any number of forms, from interviews with several of Craig’s sexual partners to a rather graphic voice message Schrock left with a gay phone-dating service. But the bafflingly flagrant behavior in which many of these individuals engage isn’t what makes the movie shocking. After all, as one prominent D.C. lobbyist observes, a convincing argument could be made that the nation’s capital is gayer than San Francisco.
And the shocking thing isn’t that most of the elected officials Dick discovers to be leading double lives are white male Republicans claiming to fight for the preservation of family values as they play to their Christian conservative bases. The shocking thing is what these men do with their power once they’ve lied and deceived their way into high office.
When the director examines these politicians’ voting records, he uncovers a startling phenomenon. Almost without exception, the very people one would expect to be sympathetic to causes important to the gay and lesbian community are actually working against them. Dick consults a psychologist who advances possible theories to account for this behavior: Not only do shame and self-hatred tend to distort one’s view of right and wrong, but voting contrary to the interests of homosexuals may look like a surefire way to convince the public you’re not one.
This is eye-opening, alarming, meticulously documented stuff. And the hypocrisy isn’t limited to office holders. Dick includes a marvelous clip from an interview David Letterman did with Mary Cheney while she was promoting her new book just after the 2004 election. When asked whether she agreed with her father’s stand on gay rights, she responded that she did not, and clearly expected a round of applause. Instead, Cheney got a killer follow-up: “Maybe,” Dave suggested, “people would rather you’d talked to him about that during the campaign as opposed to waiting until after ... and putting it in your book.”
The film makes its plea for an end to double lives and double dealing most powerfully through the moving coming-out stories offered by Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank, former Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe, and ex-New Jersey governor James McGreevey. As I listened, Harvey Milk popped into my mind — and suddenly there he was in footage shot 30 years ago, telling a reporter, “If every gay person came out just to their families ... their friends ... and their next-door neighbors, we would win.”
Certainly, progress has been made. More and more men and women entering politics find it unnecessary to come out because they never felt the need for the closet in the first place. The real outrage documented in Dick’s latest is the extent to which generations of less forthright public servants have stood, and still stand, in the way of such progress, to this day continuing to pass legislation designed to keep equal rights out of reach of their gay and lesbian constituents.
They will not be pleased that Dick has made them movie stars. Some, perhaps, will sue. I imagine all will claim he’s violated their privacy. But, as Barney Frank wisely observes, “There is a right to privacy. Not a right to hypocrisy.”